Huerta Scholarship Program

The Huerta Scholarship was established in 2014 in honor of Judge Laurence Huerta to provide financial support and assistance to Native American law students at the University of Arizona College of Law (Arizona Law). Judge Huerta, a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, was the first Native American to graduate from Arizona Law (class of ’53) and be licensed to practice law in Arizona. Throughout his illustrious career, Huerta worked tirelessly to increase access to education and promote tribal sovereignty.

Students and alumni of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy (IPLP) Program are working to improve access to justice for indigenous communities in Arizona and around the world. Each year we call on the Arizona Law community and those passionate about supporting educational opportunities for Native American students to support Huerta Scholars on #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving.

Judge Huerta’s Impact

During his career in public service, Judge Huerta’s many accomplishments include helping draft the Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s constitution and playing a pivotal role in the tribe’s successful effort to gain federal recognition, extending vital rights to the tribe and its members. Huerta also played a vital role in the development of the Navajo Nation tribal court system, widely regarded as one of the strongest and most vibrant tribal courts in the nation.

Today the Pascua Yaqui Tribe has one of the most robust governments in the nation, which is why it was selected as one of the first tribes in the country to regain the authority to criminally prosecute non-Native offenders of domestic violence.

Judge Huerta took a leading role in increasing access to education for Native Americans. During his time as Chancellor of Navajo Community College (now Diné College), Judge Huerta helped expand the college’s reach and impact within the Navajo community. Rooted in Diné language and culture, Diné College is a pillar of the nation building activities of the Navajo Nation and advances student learning and development.

Judge Huerta also worked in various capacities in the state of Arizona, including in the attorney general’s office, as a member of the State Industrial Commission, and as a judge on the Maricopa County Superior Court. He recognized the need for governments to work on behalf of, and not against, less fortunate members of society. In recognition of the thousands of lives Judge Huerta has impacted, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015, the law school’s highest honor.

In the six decades since Judge Huerta's graduation from Arizona Law, more than 150 Native American and indigenous students have followed in his footsteps, earning law degrees with a concentration in indigenous peoples’ law and policy through the IPLP Program.

Increasing Diversity Within the Legal Profession

Thanks to the generous support of Huerta Scholarship donors, Arizona Law and IPLP enrolled 15 Native American and indigenous students in 2017. The entering class of Juris Doctor (JD), Master of Laws (LLM), Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD), and Master of Legal Studies (MLS) students come from indigenous communities across the United States, including the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Ak-Chin Indian Community, Puyallup Tribe, Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, Cherokee Nation, Navajo Nation, Ho-Chunk Nation, United Houma Nation, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and Hawaii. The diversity of experiences of this year’s entering class continues Judge Huerta’s legacy of educational innovation and IPLP’s tradition of bringing together students from across the country and world to collaborate and share strategies to advocate for indigenous peoples’ rights.

2017 Huerta Scholars

Martie Simmons is a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation. After gaining a solid understanding of foundational aspects of the law in her first year of law school, Martie is excited to delve into classes that focus on federal Indian law, treaty rights, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and environmental justice for tribal communities.

Martie Simmons was inspired to go to law school by the need to keep Native children connected to their family, community, and culture through compliance with ICWA. Martie chose to go to law school because of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, a Supreme Court case which denied the protections of ICWA for Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation. “The Indian Child Welfare Act is instrumental in keeping a child connected to their culture. After the tragic Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl ruling, I got more involved with defending ICWA and many other Indigenous causes. Law school was the next logical step and with the IPLP, I will be able to give back to Indian Country,” says Martie.

Katrina Duran is a member of the Cherokee Nation and was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. She attended the University of Arizona for her undergraduate degree, majoring in history. Katrina is interested in implementation of the Violence Against Women Act and wants to use her law degree to help survivors of abuse.

Katrina came to law school to “help others in the most substantial way I could. I know that through the law, I will leave lasting impacts on the lives of people that need it most. Ultimately, I want to provide help to victims of domestic abuse through the law, so that families remain healthy and safe.” 

After spending time doing social work around the United States and in China, Darrah Blackwater was inspired to pursue law in order to learn how to create change and help the underserved more effectively. 

During her study of tribal law, Darrah hopes to “learn how to best advocate for my tribe, the Navajo Nation, and other tribal communities. I hope to be a positive voice in the conversation about Indigenous rights. I also have a special place in my heart and mind for those with disabilities and am excited to learn how to effectively and efficiently serve these communities as a lawyer.”